Press Articles
Brown Dog Pizza: World Champion. Good Dog

Cindy Fusting
Telluride Style

It’s what you were looking for. It’s a sports bar. It’s comfortable, family-friendly and bound to have some pretty decent food.

Yes, except that Brown Dog Pizza actually has incredible food. No, seriously. It’s got the very best pizza in the world. They’ve got the trophy to prove it. One taste, and you’ll know it’s legit.

Locals have known for years that Brown Dog makes one heck of pie, but now the world is taking notice. Brown Dog co-owner and pizza maker extraordinaire,  Jeff  Smokevitch  began  competing internationally in 2011 and has earned titles in competitions from Las Vegas, Nevada to Paris, France and Parma, Italy. 

In 2013, he brought home the world title in the American Pan Division of the International Pizza Challenge for his Detroit-style pizza, the 313.  Named after Detroit’s area code, Smokevitch’s 313 is a sauce-less pie featuring Genoa salami, Calabria red chili peppers, sweet piquante peppers, fresh garlic, basil and arugula along with creamy New York ricotta and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on the signature Brown Dog Detroit-style crust. It’s exquisite, and it has rightfully earned glowing write-ups on foodie blogs, on travel websites and in publications such as Forbes, USA Today and the Detroit Free Press.

Once  you’ve  tried  the  313,  it  is  hard  to  stray, but the Brown Dog menu is stacked with great options: other award-winning pizzas, fresh salads, delectable sub sandwiches, burgers and pastas, including a Bolognaise with a 125-year old recipe that  is  registered  with  the  Italian  government. No matter what you order, you can count on it to be good because Smokevitch and co-owner Dan Lynch refuse to put anything on the menu that they can’t ensure will be superb every time.

Lynch and Smokevitch have always placed a high priority  on  quality  ingredients  and  the  ability to provide a consistently excellent experience. What is now Brown Dog Pizza started off as the take-out,  deli-style  Pacific Street  Pizza  back  in 2001. The establishment quickly became a local staple and soon outgrew its  location. A move to Main Street in 2004 brought with it a new name, in honor of the both of the owners chocolate Labrador retrievers. 

The restaurant’s décor makes the owners’ loyalties obvious, the Boston Red Sox memorabilia a nod to Lynch and the copi- ous Michigan paraphernalia evidence of Smokevitch’s athletic past. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Smokevitch played linebacker on the undefeated 1997 National Championship-winning football team, alongside future three-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady.

There’s no doubt. Lynch and Smokevitch like sports, but they are most passionate about pizza. In Telluride since 1990, Lynch recalled that, “For years, when I’d go home to Connecticut, all I would want was pizza. My mom would want to take me out for lobster, but I’d say, ‘No, let’s get pizza.’”

Brown Dog sated Lynch’s need for good pie. “We were having great success with the food we were offering,” said Lynch “but Smoke knew that he wanted it to be better.”

In 2010, Smokevitch attended the International School of Pizza, and he thrived under the tutelage of legendary Pizzaioli and Master Instructor, Tony Geminani. Impressed by his standout pupil, Gemiani invited Smokevitch to compete alongside him as part of the World Pizza Champions team and has asked him to return to the school as an assistant teacher many times.

On his own, Smokevitch has focused on the pizza style he loved as a Michigan youth. In a square, blue steel automotive parts pan, Gus Guerra created the first Detroit-style pizza in 1946 at Buddy’s Rendezvous in downtown Detroit. The crust is thick but light and offers a completely unique and flavorful crunch. It may be familiar in Michigan, but it’s unlike any pizza most Americans have ever tasted. It is Smokevitch’s intention to change that.

Ineligible to compete as the reigning champ, Smokevitch brought a few of the other Brown Dog pizza chefs, Jose Suarez, Charley Rangel and Mateo Lucas, to the 2014 International Pizza Challenge. Suarez  earned  the  mid-America  regional  title and second place overall for his entry in the traditional division, the Brooklyn Bridge. A staple on the Brown Dog menu, the Detroit-style Brooklyn Bridge features natural-casing pepperoni, Italian sausage, and Sicilian oregano.

After multiple wins in high profile competitions, Detroit-style is becoming a hot topic in the pizza industry. Boutique Detroit-style pizzerias are pop- ping up across the country, and at least one notable chain restaurant has a knock-off of the classic Motor City style.

“I can still spin a pizza,” laughed Lynch, but his focus is now making sure that the customer experience is the best that it can be. Meanwhile, Smokevitch continues to create and refine the pizzas for which Brown Dog can honestly claim that it is indeed World Famous.

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